Fearing failure, sensing rage

I’m afraid this will be a bit of a ramble, a kind of a hack through some thoughts of failure, of watching a TV interview of a sportsman from the 1970s and then one last week, of media training, of war, of politics, of anger, of disconnection and of fear. I haven’t time to concoct a proper playing out for them, but something about them needs to be said right now, rather than me carrying them, and feeling angry as I carry them. So here we go. Failure. I’m admitting it from the start.
        Failure is a disconnection, and usually a painful one. In my work as a psychotherapist I see reality failures each day. Reality being life being lived now, experienced in the present. People experience moments in life as if they were, in more respects than they need to be, not just echoes of the past but replays of past moments attached to things going on in the present. They feel fear or anger as powerfully as those emotions were first felt in response to an event in the past, not the one happening now.  The fall in love – again. And again. And the same thing happens. All of us, we in some way fail to find clean connections to reality: ones unsullied by detritus from the past. And we keep on doing this until someone points it out; and then usually we dismiss them. Outside intervention fails.
        Recently there have been a couple of spectacular failures: the English football team losing to Iceland, and the Remain side failing to convince half the country of the chaos and aggression that would be unleashed by an ‘out’ vote’ (the destructive spiral of hate crimes, political implosions and financial crises).
        What can I do here to describe the things which, with hindsight, seemed to predict failure to me? What can I do, because I did predict how these things would fall.
        I had a very strong feeling that England would lose their football match, not because I know anything about football – it’s about twenty years since I saw a game – but because the day before the game with Iceland I caught sight of an interview with one of the English players. In the manner of many sporting professionals he seemed oddly encapsulated, neutered, tedious and predictable. He’d ironed himself out.
        If I turn my mind to a sport I know far better, cricket, I’ve always been interested in how the teams with the best interviewees usually win. Free spirits, non-compliant people, win things as long as they accept there is some kind of law they can’t go beyond (and or that they need a strong captain or manager). Shane Warne stretched that to the limit but as a player he always seemed to have some kind of respect for the laws of cricket. That English footballer I saw, something in him had been milled down. He’d gone from porridge oats to Ready Brek. There was a level of deceit to him, seemingly utterly anodyne, that felt as if it couldn’t been true. How do you turn that off, that castrated plodding? And where did his anger go at being so horribly circumscribed? How could that not lead to the clumsiness, lack of coordination and deflation of that game?
        Media training disconnects. It sets people up to fail. What’s it like, I wonder, to talk about yourself and your team-mates when it feels as if (or perhaps it’s the case that) your speech has been rewritten by somebody else? What’s the effect of that? Anxiety, almost certainly. Maybe a false calm. A veneer of solidity.
        People who succeed feel themselves, or have experiences where they can feel themselves, as often as they can. If they can’t, then in some way they start to fail, to come apart. Under pressure that doesn’t play out well.
        Maybe watch interviews of sports stars from the 1970s if you want to succeed. Ignore media training (if you’re unlucky enough to have it thrust on you). Make the occasional gaff, be yourself and know not just your limits, but the limits.
        That’s football.
        Brexit, then. Speakers from one side of the argument during the referendum seemed to avoid and attack facts. They focused on ‘project fear’ and ‘taking control’. They tapped into an aggressive, destructive surge – Gove in particular, orchestrating what felt such a symphony of hate. Or perhaps you only feel that keenly if your name or your skin marks you out s a possible object of hate. Polish vermin, for example. It seems now I am a rat?
        Leave. If something makes people feel much better in themselves, especially if they were feeling unbearably bad to begin with, you try getting between them and it. Leave. Think of leave as a drug, leave as a cigarette, leave as a glass of beer and Brexit makes sense. How long have packets of cigarettes carried messages saying smoking kills? And how many people still smoke? It makes sense as long as you don’t deny how angry British people were not just at the time of the referendum but at others, and how at those others they weren’t allowed to let it out.
        Well it’s out. Leave. And Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are doing their media training thing, glossed and strangely confectionary, so I imagine they’re done for now. People need somebody to remind them, or even show them, how angry they are. Gove and Johnson do. Jeremy Corbyn does. That strange paleness, that prickling in the fingers, those raised shoulders and shortness of breath; that headache, that sleepless night, that slamming of the door by mistake. That treading on the foot. That push. That shove.
      We used to have wars closer to home. Then we found ways to have them and forget them. Now they’re coming home again, I fear, unless we find ways of calling them before they begin. No more media training, please. No more gloss. Politicians need to show us how to get angry and sports players need to show us how to compete – sometimes brutally, but inside the rules. Within the law.


Labour’s Craving for a Victim

I look up the news and see a Labour party meltdown occupying the headlines rather than post Brexit chaos amongst the Conservatives or Ian Duncan Smith backtracking on what the Leave campaign appeared to promise. What is it about our MPs that they’re behaving as if their actions don’t have consequences? It’s as if all the years of plotting, guessing, double-guessing and spinning have imploded into a melee of disappointment, blame and rage.

Fantasy Island II / Brexit

I’ve listened to people justifying voting to leave, and all I’ve heard are fantasies, curious projections and strange assertions of calm.
        A socialist politician renowned for her work with refugees was shot dead last week by a far-right fanatic. The markets are falling, and many people I know are scared because they see a man like Nigel Farage (who wants to relax gun control, who last week stood in front of a poster even people in his own campaign team criticised for its fascist associations) getting air time on TV. Whatever people on the right imagine when they see Jeremy Corbyn on TV I doubt it comes  with a soundtrack of distant jackboots marching. Although I have to say that even some people I thought I knew well seem deaf to that.
        I don’t feel calm.
        Would I leave my children for five minutes with Johnson, Gove or Farage? No. Voting to leave means you have, and for the foreseeable future. Your children’s future in their hands and if not our lives, then the lives of whoever become scapegoats now Europe’s out of the way, in the balance.

Return to Fantasy Island

I voted today, having waded through a flood outside the polling station which would have put an eel off, I’d have thought. I am however more man than eel (although Freud, a very important man to me, spent much of his life thinking about eels, so there’s some eel in me … my book on psychoanalysis as a footnote to the study of eels will have to wait). All night, rain of Biblical proportions. All week, and the weeks before, lies and bullshit and coruscating moments of insight to the state of this pumped up nation.
        What I’ve heard and seen most are fantasies of leaving. Of an Exodus to a promised land that doesn’t exist other than in the discredited rhetoric of some third-rate politicians. Of a future, like a sad little pink eel, in the clammy hands of Boris Johnson … and you may do what you will imagining the fate of that little eel.
        It’s all an exit strategy. It’s all too much. It’s the mid-life crisis of (mainly) desperate men. I’m interested in who’s going to hang around and clean up the mess. A mess of the last twenty years, and many more before that. Look around us at the effects of lies on the scale of Blair’s weapons of mass destruction, of his rationale for expansion in higher education; and of his (or at least his administration’s) immigration policies that seemed to arrive like ghosts in the night. What was that about?
        Defence, education and immigration. Blair and his crew butchered the last of the truth in all three to the extent that Johnson and Gove can dismiss experts as if they were flies.  And Cameron?  Cameron. He with his piggy intent, somehow Blairite, more Blaire-lite … but with ‘austerity’. A more toxic bucket of filth tossed at the British public – as it has been across the world. A choice to create wealth by inflicting pain upon the most vulnerable. You’d think there was a pervert residing at the exchequer.
        And there was Clegg, awfully but briefly.
        This referendum is about immigration and emigration, and little else. Coming and going. Leaving a sinking ship for fantasy island, again. It happens horribly regularly in politics when the chips are down. Good luck if you’re on the lifeboat rowing into the sunset (be careful Boris doesn’t push you overboard when he finds the rations are running low). If you’re staying here can we have all hands to the pumps, please?
        The problem is that, whatever happens, at the same time nobody’s going anywhere. What is it about eels?


All the different ways life has become

I remember receiving letters and the writer had perfumed the paper. Before I even opened the envelope I was in some way already with her. What happens with emails?  I wonder, what happens. I touch the keyboard of my computer as I open a message, but that touch is so familiar it goes undetected unless I remind myself to notice – and wheres the fun in that? A message is presented to me from behind glass: on my phone, which I hold in my hand, or on the screen of my laptop; and with it, always a web of connections and escapes.
        Do I really remember holding a letter, sitting at a window, in the sun, at a table in a café in Paris? Do I remember the softness of the paper and the scent of a perfume, and an arrangement of objects on the table: a pen, a ring and a postcard from the other side of the world? Or do I picture this flatly as I see my email messages, and look for the idiosyncrasies which make a message feel special to me? An arrangement of words and characters, maybe kisses, at the end. Gaps between paragraphs or a single cloud of words, one edge, almost always the left one, cut sheerly.
        Has something happened to the way I remember, and what does that mean about how I love?
        Another love: I can think of a cricket match and the race and blur of a bowler dismissing  a batsman. A slow motion replay of the bowler. The ball barely visible and the stumps exploding. I saw a clip of a cricket broadcast last week and realised how much of what I was seeing I never saw when I was learning to love the game. And I couldn’t love it as I do if I got to know it like that: dissected and suspended in moments that broke apart the blur, the motion. All that urge to look, and why? If I studied a face like that I would still never know the person looking at me. I would need to see them move, hear them speak, feel them alive.
        All that attention to work something out – when I know, for me, the main thing about cricket for me remains the grass. The smell and the feel of the grass. After playing a game I’d walk bare-footed across the pitch, always. I’d stand on the square and feel the strange carpet of grass underneath me, remembering what had happened and breathing the memory in, as I did with letters.
        Smell and touch, and a different attention to detail.  There’s a shape to this piece of writing which doesn’t come from what happens behind a screen, electronically; maybe something like smoke. I’d smoke a cigarette reading letters. I also know, as my father was an electrical engineer, and my car caught fire once in Scotland, that electrical circuits smell of caramel before they burn, and I prefer electric to electronic.